Winter Olympics – Ones to Watch

New York, Paris, Leamington Spa – a small selection of global locations that are forecast to be colder than Winter Olympics host city Vancouver when the Games begin on Friday. The Canadian metropolis, ranked as the world’s ‘most liveable’ city by The Economist magazine, is in dire need of a wintry flurry during the next week to spare the blushes of its near-naked slopes. Lorries and helicopters have been deployed to import the all-important white stuff to the bare slopes, with the organisers’ resourcefulness, and nerves, being tested to the limit.

Joining the truckloads of emergency snow in the province of British Columbia will be 52 British competitors, hoping to improve upon the paltry return of the single silver medal won by Team GB at the 2006 Games. UK Sport, responsible for funding the British athletes, has predicted a return of three medals, just one short of the British record of four medals achieved at the inaugural 1924 Games held in Chamonix, France. While just 16 nations competed at the first Games, this year sees a total 5,500 athletes representing 80 countries. Here’s a brief run-through of our main medal contenders:

Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke – Bobsleigh

The 2009 Two Woman Bobsleigh Champions travel to Canada with a great chance of going one better with an Olympic crown. The pair have become easily the highest profile Team GB members after a mid-run mishap that makes classic Youtube viewing. Hopefully their medal hopes will not so easily fall apart at the seams.

Chemmy Alcott – Alpine Skiiing

Competing across a total of 4 disciplines (Downhill, Slalom, Giant Slalom, SuperG) Alcott represents our best chance of a medal on the slopes. Having competed in her first Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City 2002, at just 18, Alcott certainly has enough experience to make an impact in Vancouver, but will need to produce a lifetime-best performance to reach the podium.

Zoe Gillings – Snowboard Cross

The Snowboard Cross event was only introduced at the Torino 2006 Games, where Gillings reached the quarter finals stage. Famously, the final gave rise to one of the most memorable moments in the Games’ history as American Lindsey Jacobellis, having established a 43 metre lead over her trailing rivals, attempted a grab trick on the second to last jump on the course, only to lose balance and crash spectacularly.

John Eley – Short-track Speed Skating

Eley finished in 5th place in Turin and has been ranked as high as number 3 in the world over 500 metres, his specialist event. The unpredictability of Short-track gives rise to the possibility of shock results, with Steven Bradbury’s victory in the final of the 1000 metre event in 2002 being a notable example. The Australian’s rivals had left him trailing in their wake before a 3 man pile-up on the final bend paved the way for Bradbury to steal the victory, and the gold medal.

John and Sinead Kerr – Figure Skating

With Torville and Dean having officially been restored to National Treasure status through Dancing on Ice, Figure Skating is once again reaching a mainstream audience. The Kerr siblings enter the Games having won bronze at the 2009 European Championships and qualified for the World Cup Grand Prix Final.

Men’s and Women’s Curling

Perennially a key event for Team GB, this year sees our main hopes lie with the men’s team, who defeated host nation and main rival Canada at the recent World Championships. The women’s team will also be medal contenders, having achieved Britain’s last gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Shelley Rudman, Kristian Bromley, Amy Williams – Skeleton

Britain’s best chance of a medal in Vancouver probably rests with the Skeleton team. Rudman was Britain’s sole medallist at the last Games with a silver and will be hoping to go one better this time around. Bromley also has a strong pedigree having finished 5th in Turin, while Williams makes her Olympic debut following an impressive 2nd place finish at the 2009 World Championships.

Outside of the British interest, the Ice Hockey competition is guaranteed to provide a great spectacle with Canadian pride at stake over their national sport. Following basketball’s lead the NHL, ice hockey’s governing body in North America, will be allowing its players to participate in the Games once again. New event Ski Cross is also one to watch as heats of 4 competitors negotiate a course consisting of a series of hills, turns and jumps, providing the winter equivalent to the high octane thrills and spills of the BMX competition which made its debut in Beijing.

The Opening Ceremony commences at 0200 GMT and will be live on BBC and Eurosport, sandwiched between the qualifying and final stages of the Normal Hill Individual Ski Jumping Competition. Snow shortages aside, Vancouver 2010 is sure to be fantastic precursor to 2012, when the Olympic Flame begins its journey to London.

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